Examination of witnesses (Questions 1
WEDNESDAY 27 OCTOBER 1999
and MR ROBIN
1. We have had the pleasure of examining
previously Mr Masefield and Mr Mogg but not yourself; whether
it was the same pleasure for them is a matter I will leave on
the air but it was certainly a pleasure for us. We are delighted
to welcome you. It is the first opportunity we have had since
you took up the appointment. It is very good of all three of you
to have come to give evidence on this occasion and extremely helpful
in the context of the debate which it would be wrong to call an
historic debate but it is going to be one of the very first debates
under the new Westminster Hall procedure on what has happened
in Northern Ireland and in the Prison Service over the year since
we gave our report a year ago and therefore this opportunity for
updating is excellent. Your colleagues will know, and indeed may
well have told you, that we operate on the basis that should any
witness want to gloss anything they have said after they have
said it because a further thought strikes them, either while we
are taking oral evidence or subsequently when the written text
is made available, they are totally at liberty to do so. We would
similarly reserve the right to ask a supplementary question in
writing after the event if something occurred to us. We are very
grateful to you for the progress report which we received in terms
of the events and indeed the genuine progress since we issued
our report last November. I do not know whether there is anything
either you or your colleagues would like to say before we embark
on the questions we shall be asking.
(Mr Halward) Thank you very much for that warm welcome.
I am delighted to have this opportunity to meet with the Committee
to discuss and explain the progress I think we have made in the
last year in the Northern Ireland Prison Service. It would not
be appropriate for me to say much by way of introduction except
to say that the last year has really been dominated by the need
to tackle the consequences of the early release of prisoners from
prisons in Northern Ireland as a result of the Northern Ireland
(Sentences) Act and the impact of that early release programme
on prison staff. Much of the last year has been spent on what
might be regarded as infrastructure matters, trying to develop
the sort of prison service that we will need for Northern Ireland
in the future. It is about tackling the staff reduction programme,
which is highly symbolic for the service of the future. It is
about the basket of items which usually go under the heading of
Investors in People, staff training, communications and matters
of that sort. It is about items which we grouped together under
the Prison Service Review: management structure, pay and grading
and matters of that sort. Those three broad topics have to a large
extent dominated the work of the last year.
2. Thank you very much indeed for that.
I should perhaps have added in my introductory remarks that we
will endeavour to follow a logical order of questions but it does
mean that the questions may be dotted around the room and you
may have to switch your perspective from time to time. We were
conscious that the progress report did make reference to a number
of things about which we had animadverted a year ago. At the risk
of going back over the progress report, which is perhaps no bad
way of starting, would you like to say a word about what you feel
the principal achievements have been of the first year over and
above the subjects on which you have concentrated?
(Mr Halward) I have to say that given the pressures
on the service and the uncertainty that has been associated with
the reduction of the number of prisoners and thus the need to
reduce the staff in the service, it has been a major achievement
to manage to keep the service running satisfactorily operationally
during a period of such stress for the organisation. We have managed
to go a little beyond that however. We have begun to make some
progress in bringing down the level of staff sickness which had
climbed to historically high levels in the year 1998-99. We have
managed to introduce a pilot scheme on video linking where prisoners,
instead of appearing in court in person, do so by way of a video
link. In my now 26 years working in an around prisons, that is
one of the revolutionary developments in the way in which the
Prison Service does its business. We have introduced a prison
escort system which means that instead of having to send staff
out of each individual prison in Northern Ireland to take prisoners
to court, we are running it with a central group, which means
we no longer have to reduce the regime inside prisons to service
the courts. In the young offenders' centre, we have been able
to make some quite good progress in establishing a progressive
regime for sentenced trainees where they work their way through
to increasing privileges dependent on tackling offending behaviour
and so on. Those are perhaps the key achievements of the last
3. Would you like to say a matching word
about not necessarily things which have not gone well but issues
about which you feel more progress might have been made but has
(Mr Halward) I can certainly identify areas where
I wish to make more progress. I am not sure we could have hoped
to achieve a great deal more than we have done. Some of that is
further progress on things already mentioned, so we still have
a very high level of staff sickness absence in Northern Ireland
and we need to do better with that. We need to improve still further
the level of staff training and development. I should have said
that we managed to achieve 4.7 days in 1998-99 which was just
a little short of the target of five days per member of staff.
We are on target to achieve or even exceed five days per member
of staff this year. Beyond that where I want to concentrate as
soon as we can is on developing more the nature of the work of
the Prison Service so that we are looking at the sorts of prisoners
we will have in Northern Ireland and what we should be doing with
them, by which I mean beginning more effectively to tackle offending
behaviour with prisoner programmes and to see how we can work
effectively in partnership with others, most notably the Probation
Service, to reduce re-offending.
4. I want to start with this staff reduction
programme and what progress has been made and how that measures
up with what was hoped for and what the figures are in 1998-99
and what you anticipate happening with numbers this year.
(Mr Halward) The overall target is to reduce the size
of the Northern Ireland Prison Service by the end of March 2001
by around about 1,100 from the staff total in the autumn of last
year. That figure of 1,100 is arrived at by taking the number
of staff associated with the Maze Prison and reducing it a little
to allow for extra accommodation coming on stream at Maghaberry
and one or two other extra bits of work we want to do. That is
how that figure is arrived at. I explain that because it is still
a fairly approximate figure, to be finalised nearer the time,
and is of course based on the assumption that we are able to close
Maze Prison in the middle of next year, round the end of July
next year. So far we have run two phases of a voluntary early
retirement and severance scheme. Those two phases have reduced
the number of staff in the service by 210. Various other means,
mainly normal age retirements and so on, account for about another
160 or so reductions since April 1998. We have made quite a good
start. That leaves us with in the order of 700-750 further reductions
by the end of March 2001. Our aim is to achieve that by the end
of September 2000 or thereabouts. On Monday next week we are launching
the next phase of the voluntary early retirement and severance
scheme. This will differ from the earlier phases of the scheme
in that it will be open to every member of staff in the grades
which qualify which is broadly speaking prison officers and governors.
Previously we have restricted applications to smallish groups
of older staff and in specialisms where there were surpluses.
It will be open to everybody. We have put in place support mechanisms
for staff. Everybody can go to a pre-decision workshop which will
enable individuals to decide whether or not leaving the service
is the best option for them. That is backed up by individual counselling
on financial and other matters. There is also some provision for
training, partly funded by the Prison Service, for staff who wish
to go. We haveput in place a helpline, an independent non-governmental
helpline, for all staff who feel in need of some advice and assistance.
We are fairly well on the way. What I cannot answer at this stage
is whether we will by voluntary means achieve our target.
5. As regards the implementation of the
Prison Service review, I note that you have put to one side changes
to grading or the rank structures. In your very helpful note to
us you say you have been able to achieve the necessary cultural
changes in other ways and you link the two. Could you just expand
on that a little bit?
(Mr Halward) The initial thinking behind the Prison
Service review was that some fairly radical changes were needed
to get the managerial development which was needed to move the
Northern Ireland Prison Service forward. The concentration on
security and terrorist related matters has meant that the normal
course of managerial development has perhaps been a little hampered
in the past. The big change since the Prison Service review was
written has been the staff reduction programme which will in itself
result in huge changes in the system. It is likely that we shall
lose a substantial proportion, 30 to 40 per cent perhaps or even
more for senior grades, which will enable us to get quite a lot
of progression through anyway. There is also an extent to which
one can only handle so much change at one time and with a programme
as big as the staff reduction programme, which is actually tackling
40 per cent of operational staff, which is huge both in numbers
and proportion terms for a public sector organisation to deal
with, we felt that to throw the whole thing up in the air and
change all the grading arrangements as well would not be sensible
and would add to what is already quite a high level of staff uncertainty.
6. I want to ask you a little bit about
Investors in People. I notice you say it is a key element of your
personnel strategy. I am just curious because obviously I have
had involvement with Investors in People elsewhere and I am interested
to know how it is going to be applied in the Prison Service in
Northern Ireland. I wondered whether you could simply tell me
something about what you see being the key elements in terms of
your personnel strategy. How will Investors in People make a visible
impact on what you are doing?
(Mr Halward) I see Investors in People as essentially
emphasising things which are necessary in any event to achieve
a healthy and effective organisation. I personally would put effective
communications top of the list. In any organisation which operates
24 hours a day and 365 days a year it is quite difficult to get
effective communications and we have been working fairly hard
on things like, for example, our new magazine for the Prison Service
and more briefings, more face-to-face meetings between the Director
General and staff and trade unions to get much more effective
communication going and things like the staff reduction programme
backed up with dedicated leaflets, a personal briefing programme
between me and senior staff in each establishment. There is a
huge range of communications stuff which we are keeping almost
constantly under review and each time we get another problem we
are developing ways of tackling that. The other main side of it
is training and development. I am by instinct in managerial terms
a devolutionist. I believe problems are best solved where they
occur which is at the most junior appropriate level in the organisation.
We are seeking to build up the contribution that every member
of staff in the service can make. A main plank of that is a personal
development plan for every member of staff where the member of
staff identifies with his or her manager the areas to be concentrated
upon in the next period. That has fed into the training priorities
for the Prison Service as a whole this year 1999-2000 in a way
it has not done previously. In other words we have taken the sum
of the training needs identified by individual members of staff
and their managers and put those into the training programme.
There has been some quite interesting stuff. Many staff, for example,
have expressed an enormous interest in inter-personal skills training,
which is a clear indication that they see that the future of the
service lies in working much more closely with prisoners than
has been the case in the past.
7. Obviously quite a lot of things around
training, communication, you talked about the leaflets. It says
that it is next month when you come up for the final assessment.
(Mr Halward) Yes.
8. You are pretty well down the road.
(Mr Halward) Yes.
9. Is it possible to describe what the exact
concrete changes are that you have had to make in order to get
you ready for this award and if we went to have a look now, or
indeed next month, exactly what we would see that is visibly different
and relates to the personnel issues which were identified in this
(Mr Halward) Certainly things like the personal development
plan and all that goes with it is a concrete structure, a system.
10. Now it is operational.
(Mr Halward) That is operational. It would not be
reasonable for me to say that we are 100 per cent satisfied with
it. In some cases we are into the second year of personal development
plans and learning as we go. That is in place. There is a system
of training evaluation in place which would not have been in place
a year ago. The management meetings and communications structures
throughout the Prison Service are more overt and dovetailed and
integrated than they were previously. There are various publications
in place. I mentioned the magazine. There is a newsletter in relation
to the staff reduction programme, there are letters from me to
all members of staff on specific issues, there is a new information
system in place, we are into the second year of giving every member
of staff a summary of the corporate and business plan. This year
we have added a letter from the Director General as well to that.
There is a lot more visible sign of communications structures
and training systems and so on in place which is not to say there
is not a lot more yet to be done. If we get the whole service,
and we are going as six separate units, through the IIP accreditation
we shall be highly delighted but it is only a step on the road.
You asked about concrete things. The extent to which staff have
been involved in some of the developments I mentioned earlier
is very encouraging. The video linking pilot scheme which is up
and running is run now exclusively by a group of officers and
a senior officer in charge of that with very little managerial
oversight above that level. The prisoner escort system is also
largely designed by a group of junior and middle ranking staff.
We have had some success in engaging staff in solving the problems
of the service. Other things like a garden party at Hillsborough
in May organised for the Prison Service staff and their families
by the Central Benevolent Fund, which is a Prison Service organisation,
but again that is largely junior staff with minimal senior management
11. Is it right to assume that if you are
successful next month and you get the Investors in People award,
that will be a key element of your personnel strategy that you
will have succeeded with and the various things you have mentioned
(Mr Halward) Yes.
12. The other thing I was curious about
was obviously you are applying for Investors in People at a time
when the organisation is undergoing quite a lot of change. I wondered
whether you could spell out for the Committee, in fact I think
you actually say somewhere, "We must also recognise the relationship
between our staff reduction programme and the Prison Service review
and Investors in People". If you will excuse me, I think
we should recognise it but I do not know what it is. I wondered
whether you could spell out what that relationship is that you
(Mr Halward) As far as the relationship between the
staff reduction programme and Investors in People is concerned,
there is an extent to which we cannot be expected to have a workforce
which feels entirely comfortable with its position at a time when
not a single member of the operational staff of the service knows
whether or not he or she will have a job by the end of March 2001.
That is partly why we regard the staff reduction programme as
so important. We have to demonstrate by openness, good communication
and the sensitivity with which we deal with it what sort of organisation
we are becoming. The link with the Prison Service review is that
the new management structures and the revised posts, jobs and
job descriptions and so on will be introduced dovetailed with
the staff reduction programme. If you take the most senior posts
in the service, we think it would not be sensible to select from
amongst the current senior staff for the posts which will exist
after September next year when we do not know which of those senior
staff is going to leave the service. We propose to run the next
phase of the staff reduction programme through and from those
staff who remain we can then select for the senior posts in the
service and so on through the service. One point I have not mentioned
previously that comes along on the tail of the staff reduction
programme is something we are calling Future Positive, which is
a two-day workshop which we shall run from about the middle of
next year through to the spring of the following year for every
single member of staff in the service. This is recognising the
fact that those who are remaining in the service will need to
reorientate themselves a little to cope with the different demands
of the Northern Ireland Prison Service in the future.
13. You mentioned a magazine. As do a number
of MP's, I subscribe to the Prison Officers' Association journal
Gate Locked and I find it extremely useful because it is very
revealing and it also has excellent small ads. I am not asking
for a free subscription to your magazine but I should be extremely
grateful if it were be possible to have a copy. I do not know
whether other members would like it but I should like to see it
because I do feel that this does very often shine a light into
an area which so few of us know so little about.
(Mr Halward) We are happy to supply a copy for every
member of the Committee.
Mr Pound: I am not sure everybody wants one,
but I do.
14. When you joined the service, you would
no doubt have read our report with interest.
(Mr Halward) Yes.
15. How much of the service did you recognise
from the report that you read and that you then went around seeing?
(Mr Halward) The timing of it was slightly the other
way round. I took up post on 1 September 1998 and saw your report
a couple of months after that; it was published in November I
think. I felt, if I may say so, that it was a very accurate reflection
of the strengths and weaknesses of the service. That does not
mean that I would necessarily agree with every nuance or every
emphasis but I read the report and thought this, from my point
of view of managing the service, was a very helpful document which
identified the key issues. It had some very perceptive points
in it. It has been a valuable document and indeed quite a useful
focus for us in thinking how we are going to tackle the problems
of the service.
16. Did you feel in any way that it was
(Mr Halward) That is quite a difficult question for
me to answer because I have not lived through the previous period.
I have spent a lot of time working in and around prisons and have
always scratched my head at some of the problems of the Northern
Ireland Prison Service, particularly those associated with the
detention of paramilitary prisoners, because it is so very, very
different from anything I had experienced in England and Wales
or seen in other prison systems. The issue is one about what could
have been attained in the circumstances. I come in with a fairly
clear view about things like leadership, management and communication,
which betrays my own background as a prison governor essentially.
It is also true to say that I have been thus far fortunate in
that it has been an operationally fairly quiet period. I realise
that is a very incautious remark to make in my position. However,
we have been able to concentrate on tackling some of the fundamental
issues of the service. The staff of the service are greatly to
be praised for the way in which they have stuck with the task
and indeed changed in the last year as the task of the service
has changed. They are an extremely professional group of people.
17. In our report we were concerned with
quality of management; that was a considerable element. What steps
have been taken to ensure the quality of senior staff and to enhance
the size of the pool from which senior governors can be drawn,
because it seemed to us that there was a fairly small pool? What
have you done in that area?
(Mr Halward) It is fair to say we are far from having
solved that problem at the moment and I am not clear what the
long-term solution is because the Northern Ireland Prison Service
is very, very small. The total number of prisoners in the service
at the moment is less than you would find in two or three individual
prisons in England and Wales. It is a major task for the service.
We have introduced a management development programme which currently
takes us up to the middle management level of the service and
we are currently working on an individually tailored programme
which will look at the most senior 50 or 60 or so staff in the
service. One of the elements which is certain to emerge is work
by people in the Northern Ireland Prison Service, or members of
it, outside the service. That may be secondments to England and
Wales or to Scotland or to the Chief Inspector of Prisons. There
is a major element in all that about the willingness of the individuals
and disruption to family circumstances and so on. I am hoping
it will also involve work outside the Prison Service in Northern
Ireland. That could be another government department or perhaps
outside government altogether.
18. Could it be with the Probation Service?
(Mr Halward) Yes, indeed it could. We have had some
tentative discussion with them about the extent to which joint
training might be appropriate. We have generally looked at increasing
the integration of prison and probation services from top to bottom.
We have also now had two members of staff through Belfast Common
Purpose, a scheme which draws together potential leaders of the
future. Such a thing would not have been regarded as sensible
a few years ago because of the security position but now that
is open to us.
19. Do you think you are inhibited by the
moratorium on recruitment?
(Mr Halward) If I were in a position to design how
I would like to be approaching the task of building the Prison
Service in Northern Ireland, it would be to have a situation which
enabled us to bring fresh blood into the service. I am deeply
conscious that we have not recruited any prison officers for five
years now, though we have recruited prison auxiliaries. Any organisation
needs to have a certain amount of fresh blood if it is to grow
and develop. In the long term it is not satisfactory to bring
people in at senior levels in the service. We should be looking,
and indeed are, through our senior management programme, to develop
maybe not my successor but my successor's successor from within
the Northern Ireland Prison Service. Having said all of that,
we have an obligation to staff currently in the service, so I
would not for a minute argue that we should introduce a compulsory
redundancy scheme, for example to create space in the service.
We have to look to tackle the problem through other means.